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Lydell Grant

Other Harris County, Texas exonerations with official misconduct
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Around 11:45 p.m. on December 10, 2010, 28-year-old Aaron Scheerhoorn, panic stricken, ran up to the door of Club Blur, a nightclub in Houston, Texas. He was followed by a larger man. Scheerhoorn screamed for help and opened up his shirt to show he had been stabbed.

As he tried to get into the club, the man who was chasing him caught up and stabbed him again. Scheerhoorn ran into an adjacent parking lot. There, the man stabbed him several more times. After Scheerhoorn collapsed, the attacker made eye contact with a witness and then calmly walked away.

Scheerhoorn died soon after at the hospital.

Several people told police they saw all or portions of the attack. Three were club bouncers, one worked behind the bar, three were patrons, and one was a passerby.

The following night, Dalon Wells, who worked behind the bar, called Crime Stoppers to report that he saw a man who he thought looked like the attacker. Wells saw the man get out of a car and walk away. He then went to the car and wrote down the vehicle identification number (VIN). Police traced the VIN number and discovered the car was registered to 33-year-old Lydell Grant.

Police then assembled a photographic array and showed it to the various witnesses. Two of the bouncers, Andrew Vu and Armando Garza, identified Grant as the attacker. The third bouncer, Luis Montoya, did not identify anyone.

Wells said that Grant resembled the attacker. Two of the patrons, Brittany and Cody Watkins, identified Grant as the attacker. The passerby, Roberto Ramirez, identified Grant as the attacker as well. The third patron did not view the lineup.

On December 15, 2010, a Houston Police officer stopped Grant for a traffic violation and discovered there was a warrant out for Grant’s arrest. Police searched Grant’s car and recovered a wig, ski mask, Halloween mask, and knife in the trunk. None of the items in the trunk was ever linked to or even associated with the murder. Based on the witness identifications, Grant was charged with first-degree murder.

Prior to the trial, the Houston police crime lab tested scrapings from Scheerhoorn’s fingernails collected at the autopsy. The lab reported that it found a mixture of DNA from at least two individuals, “at least one of whom is male…Aaron Scheerhoorn cannot be excluded as the contributor to the major component of this DNA mixture.”

The lab further reported: “No conclusions will be made regarding Lydell Grant as a possible contributor to this DNA mixture.”

On December 3, 2012, at a pretrial hearing in Harris County Criminal District Court on a defense motion to suppress the eyewitness identifications, Wells and Cody Watkins identified Grant. Brittany Watkins made a tentative identification of Grant. However, Vu, Garza, and Ramirez failed to identify him.

The defense motion to bar the witness identifications was denied and the trial began later that day. Despite what happened at the suppression hearing, all six of the witnesses—Wells, Cody and Brittany Watkins, Vu, Garza, and Ramirez—identified Grant in court as the attacker, although Wells would only say that Grant “looked like” the attacker.

Houston police crime lab DNA analyst Priscilla Hill testified that she conducted the analysis on the fingernail scrapings from Scheerhoorn’s right hand. Hill testified: “No conclusions will be made regarding Lydell Grant as a possible contributor to this DNA mixture.” She also testified that meant “that with a mixture, now we’re dealing with a lot more information. And when I sit down and look at the mixture and compare it to Lydell, I was not able to make a clear determination if he was a contributing individual to that mixture. I could not make a conclusion.”

The prosecutor then asked, “So, in that circumstance, you could not exclude him from being a potential contributor to that DNA?”

“Correct,” Hill replied.

During cross-examination, Grant’s defense attorney asked, “So, you can’t associate Lydell Grant with—as being part of that mixture; is that correct?”

“Correct, I could not make any conclusions,” Hill said.

In Grant’s defense, a witness testified that he and Grant spent a significant amount of time together on the night of the murder. The witness said there were no gaps of time where Grant was out of sight and thus could not have committed the crime.

On December 6, 2012, the jury convicted Grant of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

His conviction was upheld on appeal in 2014.

In 2015, Grant filed a motion seeking DNA testing of the evidence. In the spring of 2018, the Innocence Project of Texas (IPTX) along with students at Texas A&M School of Law Actual Innocence Clinic began reviewing the case. In February 2019, the IPTX obtained the pre-trial DNA case file from the Houston Forensic Science Center.

Law students reviewed the data printouts from the DNA analysis. The students believed that Grant’s DNA was not consistent with the DNA found at nine of 13 loci, the genetic locations of DNA on a chromosome, and therefore he should have been excluded. Under that interpretation, Hill’s testimony that she could not exclude him was incorrect. Subsequently, IPTX provided the data files to Cybergenetics Corporation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for analysis.

On March 29, 2019, Cybergenetics completed its probabilistic genotyping computer analysis of the raw data files and reported that the DNA of Scheerhoorn and an unidentified person were found. Grant’s DNA was not found, Cybergenetics reported.

At the request of IPTX, the unidentified DNA profile was submitted to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which at that time contained approximately 14 million convicted offender DNA profiles, about four million DNA profiles of arrestees, and more than one million DNA profiles obtained from unsolved crimes. The search of the database found that the unidentified DNA profile from the fingernail scrapings was similar to the DNA profile of 41-year-old Jermarico Carter. IPTX determined that Carter had been in Houston at the time of the crime and had been arrested a year before the crime at a location very near where Scheerhoorn was killed.

In June 2019, Grant’s defense team, headed by Mike Ware, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas, and the prosecution agreed that the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) would conduct new DNA tests on the knife recovered from Grant’s car as well as the fingernail scrapings.

In July 2019, DPS reported it found a mixture of DNA from two individuals in the scrapings from Scheerhoorn’s right hand. Scheerhoorn was one of the individuals. DPS reported that Grant was excluded. No DNA profiles were recovered from the knife.

The testing confirmed the report from Cybergenetics.

On November 26, 2019, with the agreement of the prosecution, Grant was released on bond. Less than a month later, in December, Carter was arrested in Georgia on other charges. Houston police interviewed Carter and he confessed that he had stabbed Scheerhoorn following an altercation on the street. Grant was not involved in the crime, Carter said.

At the time of Grant’s release, Houston police Chief Art Avecedo said, “On behalf of the Houston Police Department, I want to extend an apology to Mr. Grant and his family as they have waited for justice all these years.”

IPTX and the prosecution joined in presenting a state law petition for a writ of habeas corpus to the trial court asking that Grant’s conviction be vacated. The writ was approved by the trial court and sent to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

In 2020, the Court of Criminal Appeals requested that the trial court produce affidavits from the witnesses who identified Grant at trial. The appeals court also asked for photographs of Carter and a copy of the recorded interview with police during which Carter admitted committing the murder.

IPTX then retained Laura Smalarz, an assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University. Smalarz reviewed the trial transcripts and police reports and issued a report saying that the witness identifications were fraught with problems. Smalarz said that several factors “likely impaired” the witnesses’ ability to remember the attacker’s face. These included the short duration of their exposure to the attack, that their attention was focused on the knife wielded by the attacker, the stress of fearing for their own safety, and that only one of the witnesses—Wells—was Black as was Grant. Cross-racial eyewitness identifications are known to be prone to inaccuracy.

The report further noted that the lineups were not conducted in a double-blind fashion and that the witnesses all received confirming post-identification feedback that likely inflated their confidence. In double-blind lineups, neither the witnesses nor the officers administering the lineup are aware of which person in the lineup is considered the suspect.

Subsequently, only one of the witnesses could be located—Andrew Vu, one of the bouncers at the club who had identified Grant at the trial. Vu said that the day police came to him with the photographic lineup, “I told them I didn’t see the guy, but they said to look again, because he was in there and three other people had already picked him.” That statement confirmed that influence from the lineup administrator played a role in producing the mistaken identifications, as noted by Smalarz.

Vu said, “I picked Mr. Grant, even though I did not really feel he was the guy. However, I talked to my co-workers afterward, and they were all sure Mr. Grant was the person, so I agreed. Because my co-workers believed it was Mr. Grant, I thought I was the one making a mistake.”

In February 2021, an amended application for a writ of habeas corpus was approved and forwarded to the Court of Criminal Appeals. The writ said that Grant’s alibi witness at the trial had been interviewed and maintained that Grant was with him at the time of the murder. In addition, police examined Grant’s cell phone, which had been seized at the time of his arrest. An analysis of the phone showed no connection to Carter or Scheerhoorn.

On May 19, 2021, the Court of Criminal Appeals granted the writ and vacated Grant’s conviction. “The entirety of the record now supports the agreed recommendation to grant actual innocence relief.”

After the ruling, Ware declared, “Lydell's case is an extraordinary case. All of the exonerations are extraordinary cases. But, there are so many cases where there's not DNA, for example. Fortunately, in Lydell's case, there was DNA that proved beyond all doubt that he was innocent, even before we get to the fact that the actual perpetrator confessed."

On May 27, 2021, the prosecution dismissed the case.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/16/2021
Last Updated: 6/16/2021
State:Texas
County:Harris
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2010
Convicted:2012
Exonerated:2021
Sentence:Life
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:33
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes*